Q: I own a 14.2hh part-Connemara gelding who is currently kept on a local dairy farm. I have just started riding him again after five months which is hard going as he is very unfit and overweight. He lives out as there is no stabling and he is not used to getting any hard feed. What should I be feeding him?

Nutritionist Christine Smy replies: Keeping weight off a good doer is not easy. However, obesity in all animals is detrimental to health.

Weight related problems include increased stress placed on limbs and joints, a higher risk of heart disease, circulation problems, digestive disorders and decreased resistance to disease.

Horses and ponies become overweight when they store excess energy as fat and one of the best weight gain products is unlimited quality grazing.

Therefore, in order for your pony to lose weight, you must restrict his grazing, especially on dairy land which will produce extremely rich grass due to consistent application of fertiliser by the farmer.

Weight loss tips

  • Ask the farmer if he has a fenced, unfertilised patch, about half an acre in size. This will suffice, but you’ll have to pick up your pony’s droppings daily.
  • If there are sheep on the farm, ask the farmer if you can borrow them to graze the grass along with your pony. Sheep are wonderful mowers and will eat the sour grass your pony avoids.
  • If this is not possible, buy an electric fence and strip graze an area of land, moving the fencing to increase the grazing only when you feel your horse is desperate for grass. Again, pick up the droppings daily to prevent souring the grass and pull up any weeds that may grow.
  • If all other options fail, you could opt for a bucket muzzle. The only problem is that, as you have no stabling and your pony is grass kept, the use of the muzzle will not be as effective as if he is stabled at night with a limited amount of hay.

    The muzzle should not be kept on for 24 hours a day so I would suggest you remove it last thing at night and replace it as early as possible in the morning. Make sure the muzzle has holes in the base to allow the pony to drink and also graze, albeit very limited grass.

  • Buy a weigh tape and use it weekly at the same time of day. A gradual weight loss is, as it is in humans, more desirable than losing a lot of weight at once. It is important to exercise the horse daily to raise his metabolic rate which will also help with weight loss. Once he starts to lose weight, you will find exercise will not be so hard going.
  • When considering a concentrate, opt for a medium energy mix or cube and not a low energy concentrate as your pony will be more likely to lay this down as fat. Start with 1lb (0.5kg) twice a day and if you don’t see a difference, increase his feed intake – up to twice this amount is okay.

    Take care, and do not feed a concentrate until your pony has been on his starvation patch for a few days.

    By feeding a concentrate along with lush grass, you may well tempt laminitis. If you decide not to feed concentrates, you will need a good broad spectrum supplement once the colder weather hits.

  • Once the frosts come, you will need to feed extra forage in the form of either hay or haylage.

    If you can, make sure it is this year’s hay as it is, on the whole, really good quality.

    If you still have a fat pony during the winter, mix the hay or haylage with quality oat straw in a 50:50 ratio. Straw has a lower nutritional content than hay and this will lower the amount of calories in his food.